Under Louisiana workers’ compensation law, employees injured in on-the-job accidents may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. If awarded by a court, such benefits must be paid as soon as possible. When an employer fails to pay benefits in a timely manner, penalties and attorney fees may be assessed against the employer. Such penalties are governed by statute. A recent decision of the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal discusses the application of penalties in workers’ compensation cases.
In 1997, Homer Landry was injured while employed by Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. (“PHI”) a corporation headquartered in Lafayette, Louisiana. The injury aggravated a pre-existing seizure condition and damaged his brain’s frontal lobes. This caused him to experience serious behavior changes, such as impulse control issues. His treating physicians concluded that he needed to be institutionalized for his own well-being. Mr. Landry’s attorney and counsel for PHI hired Dr. Cornelius Gorman, a licensed vocational rehabilitation counselor and certified life-care planner. Dr. Gorman then sent Mr. Landry to be evaluated by the staff at NeuroRestorative Timber Ridge, a facility in Benton, Arkansas that houses and treats people with brain injuries. Mr. Landry was accepted at the facility and his treatment has included environmental engineering and medication. Dr. Gorman created a life care plan for Mr. Landry that estimated the cost of his future care would be approximately $14 million and that the care Mr. Landry’s wife gave him was $13.4 million.
At trial, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (“WCJ”) ordered that PHI’s insurer pay for Mr. Landry’s treatment at Timber Ridge. The WCJ also awarded Mr. Landry $2,000 in penalties for the underpayment of his indemnity benefits, $2,000 in penalties for delaying Mr. Landry’s admission to Timber Ridge, and $2,000 in penalties for each late payment of several medical bills. The penalties were subject to the $8,000 cap on pursuant to La. R.S. 23:1201(F). The WCJ denied Mr. Landry reimbursement for the care his wife gave him between his accident and the time he was admitted to Timber Ridge. Mr. Landry appealed the cap on penalties and the WCJ’s denial of his claim for reimbursement of his wife’s attendant care. More specifically, Mr. Landry argued that the Trial Court erroneously: (1) applied res judicata; (2) failed to apply the law in effect on the date of the accident; (3) failed to award multiple penalties; (4) failed to award Tena Landry damages for attendant care; and (5) failed to grant his Motion to Accelerate benefits.